Newswise — In the world of electricity, copper is king—for now. That could change with new research from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) that is serving up a recipe to increase the conductivity of aluminum, making it economically competitive with copper. This research opens the door to experiments that, if fully realized, could lead to an ultra-conductive aluminum alternative to copper that would be useful in markets beyond transmission lines, revolutionizing vehicles, electronics, and the power grid.
“What if you could make aluminum more conductive—even 80% or 90% as conductive as copper? You could replace copper and that would make a massive difference because more conductive aluminum is lighter, cheaper, and more abundant,” said Keerti Kappagantula, PNNL materials scientist and co-author on the research. “That's the big picture problem that we're trying to solve.”
Copper vs. aluminum
Copper demand is fast outpacing its current availability, driving up its cost. Copper is a great electrical conductor—it’s used in everything from handheld electronics to underwater transmission cables that power the internet—but there’s no escaping the fact that copper is becoming less available and more expensive. These challenges are only expected to get worse with the rising number of electric vehicles (EVs), which need twice as much copper as traditional vehicles. Plus, copper is heavy, which drives down EV efficiency.